2017.3.1 – I Am Sorry
Dry earth is a frightful sight. Whether in the Sahara desert, the Kansas plains or your own back yard; cracked, dry earth is a bleak sight. And the dryer the earth, the larger the cracks, and the harder they are for moisture to heal. The image of dry earth is a fitting image for the purpose of my homily today. Today I want to heal any wounds of hurt or division that may affect our community. And I want to do this by asking for your forgiveness for anyway in which a priest, the parish or a fellow parishioner may have offended you. Today I want to say, in the clearest possible terms, “I am sorry,” so that our community, as a family united in Christ, may experience healing and reconciliation from any animosity of the past or the present.
I encourage you to read my article in the most recent Vernacular that explains why I am preaching this homily today.
As you know, the parish has just undergone the Faith Forward process in which we received feedback from over 2400 long and short surveys, not to mention the 3-hour open discussion we had on Faith Forward Sunday. I would guess that this response represents 40 – 50% or our parish households and this feedback produced nearly 250 pages of responses.
Last week I read every line of this feedback. This parish survey was the most complete examination of our parish’s conscience that I could imagine. I want to say clearly that the greatest thing that this feedback communicated was as a very strong sense of satisfaction among parishioners concerning their parish. My apologies today do not mean that parishioners, as a whole, are unsatisfied with the parish. There is, in fact, a deep satisfaction and genuine gratitude of our parish. However, the surveys did indicate several hurts, both past and present, which I want to acknowledge and for which I wish to ask forgiveness. We are a parish family made up of weak human people, and sometimes our weaknesses have caused friction, division and animosity among us. My apologies today are made on behalf of the priests, the parish as a whole, and relationships between parishioners.
I first want to ask forgiveness on behalf of myself and other priests, present and past. While I am grateful for the many loving comments made in the surveys for your priests, I am also very much aware of the revealing comments made about the offenses the priests have committed as well. Speaking for myself first:
• For being cold, impersonal, or distant, will you please forgive me?
• For not giving my full attention to you or for being arrogant, or self-focused, will you please forgive me?
• For being unavailable, difficult to reach, or not visible, will you please forgive me?
Speaking on behalf of the priest’s both past and present;
• For being rude, unkind, or inconsiderate, will you please forgive us?
• For being absent, for choosing selfishness over self-giving, for not being present in a moment of crisis, will you please forgive us?
• For not being courageous in preaching the truth, for not putting appropriate effort into homilies, or for harping on only one issue, will you please forgive us?
• For saying one thing but doing another, for instigating arguments, for being stubborn or closeminded, will you please forgive us?
• For the times you felt unsupported in your Stewardship, unappreciated for your offerings, and isolated in your service, will you please forgive us?
On behalf of myself and my brother priests I am asking you to forgive us.
Second I want to ask forgiveness on behalf of the parish as a whole. Again, it is clear from the surveys, that the parishioners of St. Francis are grateful of the many ways that the parish serves their needs and sacrifices on their behalf. But there are also instances when the parish, in its human weakness, has caused offense to some; and for these I ask forgiveness.
• For the times when we were rude, flustered, or slow to respond, will you please forgive us?
• For the times when your needs were ignored, minimalized or trivialized, will you please forgive us?
• For the times when your communications were not responded to, you offered your stewardship and were not contacted, or when misinformation was given, will you please forgive us?
• For the times you, especially those in special need or difficult circumstances came seeking help, support or a listening ear and did not find it, will you please forgive us?
• For the times you sought ministry and found none, you sought formation and were disappointed, you sought participation and found rejection, will you please forgive us?
On behalf of the priests, ministers, employees and council members of the parish I am asking you to forgive us.
Third, I want to ask forgiveness on behalf of the parishioners of our parish. Pope Francis himself described the Church as a field hospital. It is not a lounge for the saints but a refuge for sinners. Each of us in this room can admit that we are sinners in the sight of God. Because we are all gathered as sinners before the Lord, sometimes our sins become offenses to others around us. For these offenses I now ask forgiveness.
• For the times parishioners have been unwelcome, inhospitable or cliquish, will you please forgive us?
• For the times when persons in challenging situations have been judged, looked down upon, or not invited into participation, will you please forgive us?
• For the times when focus on the family has made those outside a nuclear family, such as single, widowed, divorced, single parent, or struggling with identity, feel less, ignored or sidelined, will you please forgive us?
• For the times when persons in depression, illness, isolation, or crisis, such as job-loss, grief, challenging marriage, abuse or addiction, did not find the support and encouragement of fellow parishioners, will you please forgive us?
• For the times you gave to other parishioners and were unnoticed, you promoted another’s need and you were not acknowledged, you supported the parish in time, talent or treasure and were not appreciated, will you please forgive us?
On behalf of the parishioners of the parish I am asking you to forgive us.
I was recently told the story of a gang member who got himself “jumped out” of a gang and joined a Christian parish. After a few weeks the pastor, who was very proud to be a refuge for the former gang member, noticed that he was no longer coming to services. So he called him and asked if anything was wrong. The gang member told him, “When I left the gang I was so excited to join a Christian community to have a sense of fellowship and belonging. But as the weeks went by I started to miss my gang. You see, for all the bad we were doing, I at least had a sense of belonging to a family that I have not found in your Church.” Friends, we are not called to merely be an anonymous conglomeration of faceless people. We are called to be a family: a true family, warts and all.
The current Faith Forward process is signaling a new effort among us. The 2400 surveys have allowed us to truly examine ourselves, articulate our strengths and expose our weaknesses. I my opinion, we are at a historic moment in our parish and I want my apology today to serve like a reset button. Sometimes when a person is offended they cannot forget the hurt they feel. And when the offenses are more than once, we can keep track of the number of times we were hurt. Just like a timer, or a counter, has a reset button that takes it back to zero, so too, it is my sincerest hopes that this apology today can move us as a parish family to click “reset” on hurt, division, disappointment or animosity. Can we, as a parish family, push ‘reset’ and take the ‘offense counter’ back to zero? Can we offer forgiveness to one another like water is poured upon dry earth, to remove the cracks of division and animosity from our parish family? Would you please forgive me as your pastor? Would you please forgive all your priests both past and present? Would you please forgive the parish? Would you please forgive your fellow parishioners? Would you join us as we move our faith forward and build on the gifts we have been given us as a parish family? On behalf of all of us, offering no excuses for our mistakes, I say to you the three most powerful words I can say, “I am sorry.”